The Boring Compass: A Movie Review by Pete Vere, JCL

My thanks go out to Pete Vere, JCL, my guest blogger for this post. Pete Vere is the co-author, with Sandra Miesel, of "Pied Piper of Atheism: Philip Pullman and Children's Fantasy" published by Ignatius Books, and available at

Well, I finally saw the Golden Compass yesterday. I was asked by several concerned Catholic and pro-life organizations to review the film, which I did with another pro-life activist and a Calvinist preacher. It tries to whitewash the books, which are the bigger danger.

As far as anti-Christian content, it wasn't completely stripped from the film. But it was subtle. I picked up the following:

- Polar bear smashes an Iconostasis.
- The use of the word "Magisterium" for the bad guys.
- The Magisterium's agents use the title "Fra" and wear something similar to Roman collars.
- The Magisterium's headquarters is very similar in its architectural design to St. Peter's Basilica and the Piazza San Pietro.
- The song about Lyra at the end of the movie refers to her being"full of grace".

But forget the morally objectionable content, the film was just bad art. Worse, it was boring. That's always the biggest killer for a movie in the epic fantasy genre marketed toward children.

The Calvinist preacher who came with me, quite literally, fell asleep after the first half hour. I had to wake him up for the polar bear fight scene (the only exciting sequence in the movie, and it was too short as well as anti-climatic in its ending). The theatre was practically empty, and a group of teens walked out about halfway through to murmurs of "boring" and "this sucks".

I can understand why all the secular critics are panning it.

The movie did for a large part strip Pullman of his atheism and anti-Christian themes. And although the polar bear smashing an Iconostasis would normally prove offensive to Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, by this point in the film nobody seemed to be paying attention to this rare tidbit of action.

Regardless, in stripping the screenplay of Pullman's atheism and anti-Christian ideology, the movie just doesn't hold together -especially when one is forced to endure it for two hours. Characters are poorly developed, with new characters constantly being introduced before you get to know the old ones. The direction of the movie is unfocused, and the plot is unclear. And yes, the movie does cut out before the last three chapters in the book.

New Line would have been better off going with a mid-priced movie faithful to the books and geared toward adults, rather than try and push this into another block-buster a la Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. I would not be surprised if they failed to recover their $200million investment, especially with Will Smith's "I am Legend" coming out next month.

As for fans of James Bond, Daniel Craig's appearances in the film amount to little more than a cameo. So I wouldn't recommend it for the actors unless you're a fan of Nicole Kidman (whose performance actually wasn't all that bad.)

Shout out to my friends who happen to be fans of Pullman's books: I'm not gonna tell you to not see the movie, but it's as ideologically incoherent and watered down from Pullman's books as the major movie critics claim. So yeah, your guy sold out.

Anyway, as a Catholic I give it zero stars out of five. The movie remains morally offensive. As a fine arts major and fan of the epic fantasy genre, I give it one star out of five. Mainly for the polar bear fight scene, Kidman's acting and some of the breathtaking landscape. But the movie for the most part just doesn't hold together.

I can see why New Line avoided having this movie go head-to-head with Harry Potter this past summer. In fact, I can see why New Line is avoiding any direct comparison between Golden Compass and Harry Potter.


  1. Pete, I'm thrilled that "The Golden Compass" is too boring for a group of teens!
    That's confirmation of my belief that even watered-down anti-religious propaganda is a poor excuse for a film.
    The good stories are based on truth, especially the fanatsy stories, that's the sparkle in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", one keeps glimpsing glints of the truth peeking through the mists of fantasy.

  2. "Regardless, in stripping the screenplay of Pullman's atheism and anti-Christian ideology, the movie just doesn't hold together -especially when one is forced to endure it for two hours. "

    That certainly tells you a lot about the nature of the stories -- and Pullman's motivations.

  3. Soooo glad to hear it is boring! I sure wasn't going to put money into the pockets of anyone associated with this movie to find out personally.
    Thanks for letting us know :-)

  4. Yeah but my teens keep threatening to go watch it to annoy me! sigh..

  5. Jackie,

    It sounds like they would just be punishing themselves if they did go see it. It's BORING! So now you have a retort.

  6. If Pullman's view of religion does not mesh with Catholic's or other organized religious groups, is that a reason to boycott the film?

    How is something morally offensive to another, when it is fiction, and furthermore, let's hypothetically envision this movie, and place the Catholic church as the Magisterium, explicitly, is there a problem with that. Why shouldn't people question the authority of a church?

    Especially a church that objectively speaking, has inflicted so much pain and suffering upon children, at least in my city here in the Northeast?

    Catholics and other religions should not be able to hide behind their "faith", like a shield, keeping their minds unsulated from any logical reasoning for ignoring the glaring hypocrisy of the Catholic church, and organized theistic religions in general.

    It is the free exchange of perspectives, ideas, and visions of the world, from all peoples that make life so grand; Catholics, athiests, Muslims, and agnostics alike.

    Religions true place in the conscience, not a church, temple, or the People's government.



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